Eternal Youth: Arnold Denker by Neil Brennen

Eternal Youth: Arnold Denker and the

Promotion of High School Chess

By Neil Brennen

The chess world was saddened with the recent death, on January 2, (Ed. note 2005), of

Grandmaster Arnold Denker…I’d like to look at one specific aspect of Arnold Denker’s

chess – his promotion of it at the high school level.

Denker’s chess career in fact began as a high school student. Richard

Denker, in an obituary notice published on the USCF website, wrote of

his father’s debut as a chess player, “He first attracted attention by winning

the New York City individual interscholastic championship in 1929 at

age 15; he considered those games some of his finest.” And in fact one of

those games, a sparkling win against Howard Feit, was included in

Denker’s game collection If You Must Play Chess, and his collection of

reminisces co-written with Larry Parr, The Bobby Fischer I Knew and

Other Stories. Curiously enough, the gamescore as published in those

books and elsewhere gives a different move-order for the opening, and

ends a move sooner. Either Hermann Helms altered the score prior to

publication, or Denker “improved” the score for book publication, either

deliberately, as Alekhine is known to have done on a number of occasions,

or as a result of a faulty memory. Below is the gamescore as it was

published in the Bethlehem Globe-Times, quoting Hermann Helms’ New

York Sun column.


Arnold Denker – Howard Feit

New York Interscholastic Championship, 1929

Notes by Hermann Helms

1.Nf3 b6 2.g3 Bb7 3.Bg2

Keeping step with the times. The youngsters are nothing if not modern.

3…e6 4.0–0 f5

Turning the opening into a Dutch defense with a fianchetto variation.

5.d4 Nf6

6.c4 Be7 7.Nc3 d6

(The version of the gamescore in Denker’s book and most databases begins 1 d4 f5 2 Nf3 “Being unfamiliar with this opening, I was unaware of the existence of the Staunton Gambit.”

2…e6 3 g3 b6? 4 Bg2 Bb7 5 O-O Nf6 6 c4 Be7 7 Nc3 d6 – If You Must Play Chess, page 3. – NB)

8.d5 e5 8…exd5 9.Nd4 and there are several weak spots in Black’s position.

9.Ng5 Bc8

Necessary before castling, in order to avoid the loss of the exchange.

10.e4 0–0 10…fxe411.Ncxe4 0–0, followed by …h6, would have freed his game considerably.

11.f4 considerably. 11.f4

11…ex f4 If now 11…h6 12.fxe5 dxe5 13.exf5 hxg5 14.d6 c6 15.dxe7 Qxe7 and White for choice.

12.Bxf4 fxe4 13.Ncxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4

Now the fireworks begin. White fully realizes that with the Queenside of his opponent fully undeveloped the time is ripe for an attack. Forthwith he sacrifices a piece, which brings him rich returns.

14…Bxg5 If 14…h6 15.Ne6 Bxe6 16.dxe6 c6 17.Qh5 Rf6 18.Bg5

Rxf1+ 19.Rxf1 Bxg5 20.Qf7+ and mates in two moves.

15.Qh5 Rxf4 The only move to let the King out. 15…g6 would be useless on account of 16.Bxg6 hxg6 17.Qxg6+ followed by Bxg5, etc.

16.Qxh7+ Kf7

17.Bg6+ Kf6 18.Rxf4+ Bxf4 19.Qh4+ Bg5 20.

20.Qe4 With the King out in the open and unable to escape, White can afford to make a quiet move. As will be seen, there is nothing to be done against the terrible threat of Rf1+.

20…Be3+ 21.Kh1 Bh3


A final brilliancy which settles it. If 22…Bxf1 (If 22…Kg5 23.Rf5+ Kxg6 24.Rf8+ etc.) White checkmates in two moves by 23.Qf5+ Ke7 24.Qf7# 1–0

Bethlehem Globe-Times, January 7, 1930

After a performance like that, it’s understandable that the fifteen-year old Denker would continue to play chess. And in a sense he continued to play chess as a fifteen-year old even into adulthood, despite the years of chess understanding he had accumulated. As Denker wrote in the introduction to his book If You Must Play Chess, “I still like to attack. If this be treason, then make the most of it!”

This fondness for youthful chess play spilled over into a fondness for youthful chess players. Denker befriended a number of young players, including the teenaged Bobby Fischer, during his career. And eventually, after his retirement, his connection to chess youth reached a new level. As his son wrote, “Grandmaster Denker took special pride in first starting (1984) and then sponsoring the national championship of high school state champions, known affectionately as “The Denker”.

Each year college scholarships are awarded to the top participants.” As impressive as this achievement sounds, it wasn’t in 1984, but four decades before, that Arnold Denker first underwrote a chess tournament for high school students.

In the Spring of 1945, Denker was conducting a simul tour, and visited Pittsburgh’s Downtown Y Chess Club, as the Pittsburgh Chess Club was then known, on March 13. The then-US Champion was scheduled for a simultaneous exhibition, and forty-two players shelled out a dollar a board to play against him. Denker made an impressive score against the strong Pittsburgh contingent, with several of the better players taking boards. For instance, Reverend Julius Paal, who would win Pittsburgh’s Metropolitan Championship later that year, played and managed to draw his game. Denker’s only loss in the event was to two Pittsburgh High School students who consulted and played together on one board. Perhaps inspired by their youth, the US Champion played with abandon, only to find the boys were as aggressive as himself. As Denker may have said, the young people “made the most” of their attack.


Arnold Denker – Jack Yeager and Robert Swan

Simul, Pittsburgh, March 13, 1945

1.e4 e5 2.d4 Nf6 3.dxe5 Nxe4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.Bxf7+ Kf8 6.Nh3 Qh4

7.Bg5 Bxf2+ 8.Kf1 Nxg5 9.Nxg5 b6 10.Nf3 Qe7 11.Bd5 Qc5

12.Bxa8 Ba6+ 13.Qd3 Bxd3+ 14.cxd3 Qc1+ 15.Kxf2 Qxh1

16.Ng1 Qxh2 17.Bf3 Qh4+ 18.Kf1 Qg5 19.Nd2 Qxd2

20.Be4 Ke7 21.Nf3 Rf8 22.Kg1 Qe3+ 23.Kf1 Nc6 24.Re1 Qd4

25.e6 d5 26.Bxh7 g5 27.Ke2 Qxb2+ 28.Kf1 g4 0–1

Pittsburgh Chess Club En Passant, April 1945

In addition to the loss, Denker was nicked for a number of draws. One of the draws scored against the Grandmaster was also by a young player, ten-year old Mickey Cherington. In this case, the young player was forced against his will to leave due to the lateness of the hour; the En Passant’s claim that the boy’s father’s loss in the simul had something to the decision to leave should be considered also.


Arnold Denker – Mickey Cherington

Simul, Pittsburgh, March 13, 1945

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 Be7 6.Nf3 0–0

7.Rc1 b6 8.cxd5 exd5 9.Bd3 c5 10.0–0 c4 11.Bf5 h6 12.Bxd7 Bxd7

13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Nxd5 Rc8 15.Nxf6+ Qxf6 16.Ne5 Qe7

17.Rxc4 Rxc4 18.Nxc4 Bb5 19.b3 Rc8 20.Qg4 Bd 21.Qg3 Be6

22.Rc1 b5 23.e4 bxc4 24.d5 cxb3 25.Rxc8+ Bxc8

26.Qxb3 Qxe4 27.h3 ½–½

Pittsburgh Chess Club En Passant, April 1945

The Pittsburgh Chess Club En Passant included three additional games, a draw and two wins for the single player, from the Denker simul in the April 1945 issue. These games are given below.


Arnold Denker – Richard Gibian

Simul, Pittsburgh, March 13, 1945

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0–0 d6 5.d4 exd4 6.Bg5 Be7

7.Bxc6+ bxc6 8.Nxd4 Bd7 9.Re1 0–0 10.Nf5 Re8 11.Nxe7+ Qxe7

12.Qf3 Qe5 13.Bxf6 gxf6 14.Nc3 Kh8 15.Rad1 Rg8

16.Rd2 Rg4 17.Nd1 Re8 18.g3 Kg7 19.Rde2 Qc5 20.Qe3 Rg5

21.Qxc5 Rxc5 22.Kg2 h5 23.h4 Rce5 24.Nc3 Rb8 25.b3 a5

26.f3 Rbe8 27.Kf2 f5 28.f4 R5e7 29.e5 f6 30.exd6 Rxe2+

31.Rxe2 Rxe2+ 32.Kxe2 cxd6 33.Ke3 Kf7 34.Kd4 Ke7 35.Nd1 Be6

36.Ne3 c5+37.Kd3 Kd7 38.c4 Kc6 39.Kc3 Kb6 40.Nd5+ Bxd5

41.cxd5 Kb5 42.a4+ Kb6 43.Kd3 Kc7 44.Ke3 Kd7 45.Ke2 Kc7 ½–½

Pittsburgh Chess Club En Passant, April 1945


Arnold Denker – Lt. W. E. Hawkins

Simul, Pittsburgh, March 13, 1945

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7

7.Qd2 a6 8.f4 c5 9.Nf3 cxd4 10.Nxd4 0–0 11.g3 Nc6 12.Bg2 Qc5

13.Nce2 Nxd4 14.Nxd4 Qc7 15.0–0 Nb6 16.c3 Nc4 17.Qe2 Bd7

18.f5 Rfe8 19.f6 g6 20.b3 Na3 21.Qd2 Kh8 22.Qh6 Rg8

23.Rf4 g5 24.Rf3 Qb6 25.Rf2 Rac8 26.Ne2 Nc2 27.Rc1 Ne3

28.Qh5 Be8 29.Qf3 g4 30.Qf4 Bb5 31.Nd4 Nxg2 32.Kxg2 Be8

33.h3 gxh3+ 34.Kxh3 Rg6 35.Rh2 Bd7 36.Kg2 Rcg8 37.Rxh7+ Kxh7

38.Rh1+ 1–0

Pittsburgh Chess Club En Passant, April 1945


Arnold Denker – H. P. Meese

Simul, Pittsburgh, March 13, 1945

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.b4 Bb6 4.Nf3 d6 5.a4 a6 6.Nc3 Nf6 7.h3 Nc6

8.b5 axb5 9.Bxb5 Bd7 10.0–0 0–0 11.d3 Nd4 12.Be3 Nxb5

13.axb5 Rxa1 14.Qxa1 Bxe3 15.fxe3 h6 16.Qa7 b6 17.Nh4 Qb8

18.Ra1 Be6 19.Qxb8 Rxb8 20.Ra7 Rc8 21.Na4 d5 22.exd5 Nxd5

23.e4 Nb4 24.Nf3 f6 25.Ne1 c6 26.Nxb6 Rb8 27.Ra8 Rxa8

28.Nxa8 cxb5 29.Nc7 Bd7 30.Kf2 Kf8 31.Ke3 Ke7 32.c3 Na2

33.Kd2 Kd6 34.Nd5 Be6 35.Kc2 b4 36.Nxb4 Nxb4+

37.cxb4 Kc6 38.Kc3 38…Kb5


At this point, Black resigned because of the lateness of the hour. But his position is lost, at any rate. 1–0

Pittsburgh Chess Club En Passant, April 1945

A few  months after Denker’s appearance in Pittsburgh, the Downtown Y Chess Club helped organize a scholastic tournament for high school students in the greater Pittsburgh area. The original notices about the tournament in the club’s newsletter don’t mention the source of the funding. It was only revealed, almost as an aside, in the May 1947 issue of En Passant, by William Byland. As part of a short comment on fundraising for the club, Byland mentioned that “Denker during his visit a couple years ago”, had made a donation to the Downtown Y Club for the purpose of holding the high school tournament. Thanks to Denker’s generosity in suggesting and sponsoring the Pittsburgh tournament, scholastic players in the Three Rivers area gained in experience and deepened their love for the game of chess.

“Teaching chess and passing the game to the next generation was his great passion,” wrote Richard Denker of his father. Few people have spent as much time and money on promoting high school chess as Arnold Denker. Few have had as much impact as he. And fewer still have taken as much pleasure from helping scholastic chess. The body aged, the mind slowed, the eyes dimmed, but the heart remained young and was sympathetic to the young. And if this was treason, Arnold Denker made the most of it.

Each year the winner of our State Scholastic Championship is eligible to represent Pennsylvania in the Denker Tournament of High School Champions.

Many thanks to Tom Martinak for assistance with this article.

, written by Neil Brennen.


Excerpt from 2005 PSCF Annual